FASCINATION WITH THE LIFE AND WORK of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) has never really quelled since his death three decades ago. Over the past few years, a crush of exhibitions and catalogs, and soaring auctions sales have further shaped the legacy of Basquiat whose life was cut short by a drug overdose at age 27. If he were alive today, he would be 56.

Basquait is the lone African American artist whose works have garnered eight figures at auction and last week he joined the $100 million club when an untitled 1982 skull painting sold at Sotheby’s for $110.5 million, nearly twice his previous record.

In May 2016, an untitled 1982 painting of a horned devil by Basquiat sold for $57.3 million at Christie’s New York. It was the fifth most expensive work of art at auction that year, and the highest priced work by an American artist, according to the annual TEFAF Art Market Report 2017.

Before reaching the $100 million milestone, Basquiat achieved another remarkable feat—No. 1 American artist at auction in 2016. In terms of accumulated sales by volume, Basquiat was the top American artist with $172 million in sales last year. He ranked No. 7 worldwide. The ranking marked a significant rise, 30 percent from 2015, when Basquiat’s sales volume was 18th overall.

Before reaching the $100 million milestone, Basquiat achieved another remarkable feat—No. 1 American artist at auction in 2016. In terms of accumulated sales by volume, Basquiat was the top American artist with $172 million in sales last year.

His worldwide sales position should improve in 2017 when the $110.5 million price achieved with the skull is factored into his annual sales.

The regular presence of works by Basquiat appearing at auction, season after season, parallels a generation of scholarship and curatorial attention, substantiating his art historical significance.

jean-michel_basquiat_-_nyt_mag_1985BORN IN BROOKLYN, N.Y., Basquiat’s father was Haitian and his mother Puerto Rican. He was a graffiti artist before he transitioned to the downtown New York art scene, where graphic images, symbols and motifs, and language continued to define his work. “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” (2015-2017), a major traveling exhibition, presented the artist’s notebooks for the first time. Brimming with poetry fragments, sketches, pithy wordplay, poignant phrases, and insights about race, class, world history, street life, and pop culture, the materials brought new attention and perspective to Basquiat’s work.

“The Unknown Notebooks” was on view at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Franklin Sirmans, PAMM’s director, was especially looking forward to the show, which was among the first presented at the museum under his new leadership. His expertise and curiosity about Basquiat are longstanding. Sirmans wrote his undergraduate thesis on the artist and helped curate Basquiat retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1992) and Brooklyn Museum (2005).

Serving as artistic director, he mounted a Basquiat exhibition at Prospect 3 New Orleans in 2014, and edited “Basquiat and the Bayou,” the accompanying catalog. Sirmans also contributed essays to other Basquiat volumes, including “The Unknown Notebooks,” and “Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time.”

Sirmans has said his interest in art was piqued when he read about Basquiat in the New York Times Magazine. The artist appeared on the Feb. 10, 1985 cover of the publication.

In 2015, I asked Sirmans how he felt about the artist today, after 30 years of perspective and curatorial experience. He said: “He’s an artist I will never forget. I will always feel like there is something new to say about Basquiat, especially with the dearth of more focused exhibitions, which is what this ‘Notebooks’ show represents.”

“He’s an artist I will never forget. I will always feel like there is something new to say about Basquiat…”
— Franklin Sirmans, Director of Perez Art Museum Miami

Basquiat’s latest history-making achievement at auction comes amid a steady stream of new milestones, recent exhibitions, magazine coverage, and new books about the artist and his practice. The selection below provides an overview. CT

 


“Basquiat: Boom for Real,” Edited by Dieter Buchhart and Eleanor Nairne (Prestel, 280 pages). | Forthcoming Oct. 25, 2017

 

BOOK

“Basquiat: Boom for Real”

Edited by Dieter Buchhart and Eleanor Nairne, this forthcoming volume accompanies “Basquiat: Boom for Real,” the groundbreaking Jean-Michel Basquiat survey at the Barbican Centre in London. Charting the artist’s graffiti origins, and inspirations rooted in music and Hollywood films, the forthcoming exhibition is the largest presentation of his work in the UK. The catalog includes essays from poet Christian Campbell on SAMO©; curator Carlo McCormick on New York / New Wave; writer Glenn O’Brien on the downtown scene; academic Jordana Moore Saggese on Basquiat’s relationship to film and television; and music scholar Francesco Martinelli on Basquiat’s obsession with jazz.

 


JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, “Hollywood Africans,” 1983 (acrylic and oil stick on canvas). | Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris via Barbicon

 

EXHIBITION

“Basquiat: Boom for Real” @ Barbican Centre Art Gallery, London | Sept. 21, 2017-Jan. 28, 2018

Featuring more than 100 works drawn internationally from museums and private collections, this is first large-scale exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work in the UK and includes an accompanying catalog. The forthcoming show considers the artist’s work the the lens of performance and his relationship with music, film, and television.

 


Lot 24: JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988), “Untitled,” 1982 (acrylic, spray paint and oilstick on canvas, 72 1/8 x 68 1/8 inches). | Bids began at $57 million. Sold for $110,487,500 (including fees) RECORD

 

AUCTION

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled,” 1982. | Sold for $110,487,500 (including fees) on May 18, 2017, at Sotheby’s New York

An untitled 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat is the most expensive work of art by an American artist ever sold at auction. It shattered expectations on May 18, selling for an astronomic $110.5 million (including fees), an artist record and a groundbreaking auction moment at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. It is the most expensive work by an artist of African descent sold at auction and the most expensive work made since 1980 sold at auction. The outsized price is nearly double Basquiat’s previous record of $57.3 million, established a year ago in May 2016.

 


This dynamic exhibition emphasizes Jean-Michel Basquiat’s emblematic role in the 1980s New York art scene.

 

EXHIBITION

Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York City: Works from the Mugrabi Collection @ Chiostro del Bramante, Rome, Italy | March 24-July 30, 2017

Drawn from what may be the largest private collection of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, this sprawling exhibition features more than 100 works made between 1981 and 1987, almost the entire span of his career. The show features many mediums, including paintings, drawings, silkscreen prints, ceramics, and collaborations with Andy Warhol.

 


“Basquiat in the apartment,” 1980. | Photo by Alexis Adler via MCA Denver

 

EXHIBITION

“Basquiat Before Basquiat: East 12th Street, 1979-1980” @ Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Colo. | Feb. 11-May 14, 2017

Before he gained recognition as an artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat lived for a year with Alexis Adler, a friend and graduate student, on the Lower East Side. This exhibition presented a cache of materials from that time (the apartment was a virtual canvas), and photographs Adler took of Basquiat, documenting his creative concepts and performances as he explored ideas, music, and writing, before definitively pursuing painting. The accompanying catalog is fully illustrated with Adler’s photographs, and includes contributions by MCA Denver curator Nora Burnett Abrams and critical writings and remembrances by Basquiat’s friends, Adler, Luc Sante, Darryl Pinckney, and Michael Holman, among them.

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Words Are All We Have
“Jean-Michel Basquiat: Words Are All We Have,” Edited by Dieter Buchhar, with paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat (Hatje Cantz, 160 pages). | Nov. 22, 2016

 

BOOK

“Jean-Michel Basquiat: Words Are All We Have”

For its first exhibition dedicated to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nahmad Contemporary in New York explored literary and musical elements in the artist’s practice and considered how language functions in major works featuring words, signs and pictograms. Featuring a dynamic blend of papers types, text, images of works, and documentary photographs, the accompanying fully illustrated catalog presents new scholarship on Basquiat by Dieter Buchhart, Christian Campbell, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Carlo McCormick, Jordana Moore Saggese, and Greg Tate.

 

Radiant Child - The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
“Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 40 pages). | Published Oct. 25, 2016

 

BOOK

“Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat”

This illustrated children’s book has been recognized with Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards and appears on countless best books lists. The story begins with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s childhood growing up in Brooklyn. He dedicated himself early to making art, which he learned about from his mother. “People describe him as radiant, wild, a genius child, but in his heart he is king, so he draws crowns for himself and others he admires,” author Javaka Steptoe writes.

 


Lot 36B: Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled,” 1982 (acrylic on canvas). | Bids started at $24 million. Sold for $57,285,000 (including fees) RECORD

 

AUCTION

Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled,” 1982. | Sold for $57,285,000 (including fees) on May 10, 2016, at Christie’s New York

A year ago, Jean-Michel Basquiat established a new artist record when his 1982 painting of a horned figure sold for $57.3 million (including fees). His previous high mark was $48.8 million for “Dustheads” (1982), which achieved $48.8 million (including fees) on May 15, 2013, at Christie’s New York. The price was nearly double the previous record setter, $26.4 million (including fees) reached for an untitled 1981 painting on Nov. 14, 2012, at Christie’s New York.

 


Vanity Fair’s special edition features an article by Ingrid Sischy the explores the connection between Jean-Michel Basquiat and collectors Lenore and Herbert Schorr. Cover image: Basquiat photographed by Andy Warhol in 1982 (silver gelatin print). © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Art Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

 

MAGAZINE

“For the Love of Basquiat,” by Ingrid Sischy, The Best of Vanity Fair: Special Edition on Art and Artists | 2015/2016

Published at the end of 2015 and on newsstands through Feb. 8, 2016, this special edition presents a selection of the magazine’s visual arts coverage from 1989-2014. “For the Love of Basquiat,” the cover article by Ingrid Sischy reports on collectors Lenore and Herbert Schorr who have concentrated their acquisitions on the artist’s drawings and works on paper. Originally appearing in the magazine in May 2014, the story coincided with the exhibition “Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Work from the Schorr Family Collection” at New York’s Acquavella Galleries. According to the article, “their memories of the artist, a surrogate son, illuminate his struggle to be seen.”

 

The Notebooks - Jean-Michel Basquiat
“The Notebooks,” by Jean Michael Basquiat, Edited by Larry Warsh (Princeton University Press, 304 pages). | Published May 26, 2015

 

BOOK

“The Notebooks”

Replicating a black and white composition book, this volume is a facsimile reproduction of eight of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s notebooks, complete with ruled pages. He wrote (in all caps) and drew in the books between 1980 and 1987, jotting down fragments of poetry, doodles, and random thoughts about race, culture and society—many of the words, images, and symbols later appeared in the artist’s paintings. Some pages throughout are filled from top to bottom, but most contain singular sketches or truncated phrases, such as: “It all depends on who you are on what street,” “What about this modern education flash cards and all that,” “The area code of St. Louis prior to the assassination,” “A right-wing group on television,” “Love is a lie, Lover = Liar,” and “art.”

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Robert Farris Thompson - Gagosian
“Jean-Michel Basquiat,” Text by Robert Farris Thompson and Renee Ricard (Gagosian/Rizzoli, 210 pages). | Published April 28, 2015

 

BOOK

“Jean-Michel Basquiat,”

After presenting an exhibition of more 50 Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings from public and private collections at its West 24th Street space in New York (Feb 7-April 6, 2013), Gagosian Gallery mounted what was described as the first exhibition of the artist’s works in Hong Kong (May 21-Aug, 10, 2013). The gallery followed with the 2015 publication of this volume which is rife with lavish images, about 150 pages of full-color plates, along with vintage and contemporary installation views, and documentary photographs of the artist. Lengthy works are illustrated on fold-out pages. Tucked between all the images are texts by Robert Farris Thompson (“In Search of the Essence of Meaning: Translating Basquiat’s Art”) and Rene Ricard (“Basquiat: A Memoir”).

 

Basquiat - The Unkown Notebooks
“Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks,” Edited by Dieter Buchhart and Tricia Bloom, foreword by Henry Gates Jr., with contributions by Franklin Sirmans and Christopher Stackhouse (Skira Rizzoli, 246 pages). | Published April 14, 2015

 

BOOK

“Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks”

Accompanying “The Unknown Notebooks” traveling exhibition, this catalog features illustrations of more than 150 pages from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s notebooks, along with critical texts by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Dieter Buchhart, Franklin Sirmans, and Christopher Stackhouse, providing insights into how the artist’s musings, sketches, and observations expressed his world view and influenced his paintings.

 

EL135.58
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, “Untitled (Crown),” 1982 (acrylic, ink, and paper collage on paper). | Private collection, courtesy of Lio Malca. Copyright © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rights reserved. Licensed by Artestar, New York. Photo by Mark-Woods.com

 

EXHIBITION

“Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” @ Brooklyn Museum | Brooklyn, N.Y. | April 3-Aug. 23, 2015

Rife with doodles, fragmented phrasing and recurring motifs, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s famous works often look like he was working his ideas out on the canvas. It should come as no surprise that he filled notebooks with what the museum describes as “poetry fragments, wordplay, sketches, and personal observations ranging from street life and popular culture to themes of race, class, and world history.” The exhibition is the first major presentation of his notebooks and includes 160 pages exhibited alongside related works on paper and canvas. Organized by the Brooklyn Museum, the exhibition traveled to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Perez Art Museum Miami, and Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

Basquiat - T mag - spring 2015
In anticipation of “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” opening at the Brooklyn Museum, the artist was featured on the Spring 2015 Men’s Style edition of T Magazine, published March 5, 2015.

 

MAGAZINE

“The Rediscovered Genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat,” New York Times ‘T’ Magazine

For its Spring 2015 Men’s Style issue, “T” magazine chose a black-and-white photograph of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The 1984 image by Richard Corman captures the artist in his Great Jones Street Studio. Inside, an article by Luc Sante considers the “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum (April 3-Aug. 23, 2015). Deborah Needleman’s editor’s note tees up the issue and is illustrated with a page from one of the artist’s notebooks. It briefly states: “THE EDITORS ARRESTED/MAGAZINE SHUT DOWN.”

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Now's the Time
“Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time,” by Dieter Buchhart, with contributions by Franklin Sirmans, Olivier Berggruen, Glenn O’Brien, and Christian Campbell (Prestel Publishing 208 pages). | Published Feb. 20, 2015

 

BOOK

“Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time”

Fully illustrated, this catalog complements the first major retrospective of Jean-Michel Basquiat in Canada. The artist’s paintings and drawings are presented in eight thematic categories including Street, Heroes, Reclaiming Histories, Collaborations, and Provocations, alongside writings by guest curator Dieter Buchhart, Glenn O’Brien, Francesco Pelizzi, Olivier Berggruen, Christian Campbell, and Franklin Sirmans, who also contributes a detailed chronology of the Basquiat’s life.

 


Curator Dieter Buchhart, collector Kenneth Montague, and local artists and musicians, discuss why Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work resonates in Toronto.

 

EXHIBITION

“Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time” @ Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto, Canada | Feb. 7-May 10, 2015

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s first major retrospective in Canada featured about 85 large-scale paintings and drawings drawn from public museums and private collections across Europe and North America. Guest curated by Dieter Buchhart, the exhibition considers Basquiat’s works through a thematic lens. According to the museum, the artist was “inspired as much by high art—Abstract Expressionism and Conceptualism—as by jazz, sports, comics, remix culture and graffiti, Basquiat translated the world around him into a provocative visual language.”

 

Basquiat and the Bayou
“Basquiat and the Bayou,” by Franklin Sirmans, with contributions by Robert Farris Thompson and Robert O’Meally (Prestel USA, 112 pages). | Oct. 25. 2014

 

BOOK

“Basquiat and the Bayou”

Serving as artistic director of Prospect 3: New Orleans (2014-2015), Franklin Sirmans curated the biennial’s highly anticipated exhibition, “Basquiat in the Bayou.” The tightly focused presentation of nine paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat explored the “deep psychological and spiritual terrain of the American South.” Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, the artist had no direct connection to the region, but he invoked its themes in his work. It is this imaginative role that Sirmans probes. The catalog features images of the paintings, including “CPRKR” (1982), “Zydeco” (1984), “King Zulu” (1986), and essays by Sirmans, now director of the Perez Art Museum Miami, Robert Farris Thompson and Robert O’Meally examine the influence of Southern history and culture on Basquiat’s vision.

 

Reading Basquiat
“Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art,” by Jordana Moore Saggese (University of California Press, 268 pages). | Published May 30, 2014

 

BOOK

“Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art”

In this scholarly volume, Jordana Moore Saggese considers how literature influenced Jean-Michel Basquiat’s views on blackness, creativity, and the parameters of American art. The book “provides a new approach to understanding the range and impact of this artist’s practice, as well as its complex relationship to several key artistic and ideological debates of the late 20th century, including the instability of identity, the role of appropriation, and the boundaries of expressionism.”

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing- Work from the Schorr Family Collection
“Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Work from the Schorr Family Collection,” by Fred Hoffman, in collaboration with Acquavella Galleries (Rizzoli, 200 pages). | Published May 6, 2014

 

BOOK

“Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing: Work from the Schorr Family Collection”

Known for the poignant symbolism and energetic expression of his paintings, Jean-Michel Basquiat also made countless drawings. Published to coincide with “Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing” at Acquavella Galleries in New York (April 30-June 12, 2014), this volume is the first book to focus on the artist’s works on paper. Herbert and Lenore Schorr began collecting Basquiat’s work in 1981. Along with paintings, they made a concerted effort to acquire drawings directly from Basquiat and his dealer, between 1982 and 1983. The show featured 22 drawings many exhibited publicly for the first time. CT